If you want to be shunned at the club, tell the truth about a historical falsehood that virtually everyone accepts as unquestionably true. Take, for instance, the origins of socialism and its link to esoteric thought and the Occult, as demonstrated in the voluminous writings of Dr. Julian Strube of Heidelberg University (the one in Baden-Württemberg, not Ohio). Nowhere is this more evident than in the career of Alphonse-Louis Constant.
Constant, an occult author, socialist, and “ceremonial magician,” was strongly influenced by the writings and career of Hugues-Félicité-Robert de Lammenaisis. De Lamennais was the renegade Catholic priest who renounced his priesthood, repudiated Christianity, started his own “Religion of Humanity,” and is — of course — revered by many as the founder of social or liberal Catholicism. Alexis de Tocqueville declared that de Lamennais had “pride enough to walk over the heads of kings and bid defiance to God.” He is regarded as the first “modernist.”
|Hugues-Félicité-Robert de Lammenaisis|
De Lamennais’s disciple, as it were, Constant is better known by the pseudonym under which he published his writings, Éliphas Lévi Zahed. This was an attempt to translate his given names into Hebrew. Anglican apologist Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) may have had Constant in mind as the exemplar of the “materialist magicians” he portrayed in the novel That Hideous Strength (1945), a fictional treatment of the matters addressed earlier in The Abolition of Man (1943).
The son of a cobbler, in 1825 Constant entered the seminary of Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet in Paris to study for the priesthood. There he fell under the influence of the rector, the Abbé Frère-Colonna, who had developed a collectivist and gnostic theology based on the condemned writings of Abbot Joachim of Flora, whose writings influenced the Fraticelli whom G.K. Chesterton disparaged.
Frère’s idea was that humanity (not the individual human person), separated from God by Original Sin, could only return by rejecting the material world and becoming more spiritual. History was divided into four periods (as opposed to Joachim’s three), each more spiritual than the last. The first was from Adam to Abraham, the second from Abraham to Jesus, the third from Jesus to the Paraclete, and the fourth, the New Age of the Holy Spirit, which would be the reign of universal love once the Paraclete arrived.
Church authorities removed Frère for his unorthodoxy while Constant was still a student at the school. Constant never forgave the Catholic hierarchy for what he saw as the disgrace of his teacher.
It was probably while at Saint Nicolas that Constant first came across the writings of de Lamennais. The four volumes of de Lamennais’s Essai Sur l’Indifférence en Matière de Religion had achieved an extraordinarily wide distribution by the time Constant became a student.
|Joachim di Fiora|
De Lamennais’s Christian socialism, his theory of a universal religion, and especially the theory of certitude, resonated well with what Constant absorbed from Frère. He eventually became convinced that de Lamennais’s thought represented true Christianity and became an avid promoter of Neo-Catholicism.
In 1832, Constant entered the theological college of Saint-Sulpice and was ordained to the diaconate in 1835. He left the seminary in 1836 before being ordained to the priesthood, having fallen in love with a young woman whom he may have married secretly. On hearing of Constant’s leaving the seminary, his mother committed suicide.
It is possible that de Lamennais’s break with the Church at this time and his claim that the Church was persecuting him influenced Constant’s decision. What happened to de Lamennais resembled the dismissal of Frère. It would have confirmed Constant in his opinion that the institutional Church did not reflect true Christianity. Just as the Fraticelli had been persecuted centuries earlier, the Church tyrannically oppressed the prophets of the real universal religion.
|The "New Christianity"|
Constant became a radical socialist and began his association with other socialists and Romantics such as the writers Henri-François-Alphonse Esquiros, Gérard Labrunie, and Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier. Others included the socialist writer and feminist Flora Tristan, who was the grandmother of the painter Paul Gauguin, the socialist mystic and eccentric Simon Ganneau, who went by the title, “the Mapah,” and the Protestant socialist liberal Charles Fauvety, who founded the Religion Laïque (“Religion of the Laity”).
Constant became known as de Lamennais’s most notorious disciple, although the two do not ever seem to have met. Constant’s first radical publication, La Bible de la Liberté (1841), earned him a heavy fine and a prison sentence. He developed close ties with the Fourierist socialists.
Now describing his thought as “communisme néo-catholique,” Constant began publishing numerous socialist pamphlets and books with a strong Fourierist bent. In common with Saint-Simon, Fourier, and others, he described his version of socialism as “true Christianity,” and condemned the institutional churches for corrupting the pure teachings of Jesus.
|French Revolution of 1848|
With the publication of La Fête-Dieu and Le Livre des Larmes in 1845, Constant began expressing doubts about the ability of “the masses” to achieve emancipation on their own. In common with the Saint-Simonians he adopted the theocratic ideas of de Maistre and advocated rule by a priestly élite.
In 1846 Constant married sculptor and writer Marie-Noémi Cadiot, who may have been his second wife. His second prison sentence for a particularly radical pamphlet he published that same year, La Voix de la Famine, was shortened at Noémi’s request, as she was at the time pregnant with their daughter, Mary.
In 1848, the year of the February Revolution, Constant published Testament de la Liberté and was the leader of the Club de la Montagne, one of the more extreme Montagnard (radical) organizations. He proclaimed that the martyrdom of the People was over, Liberty was resurrected, and the perfect universal social order had been established.
The failure of the Revolution and the massacres during the June Uprising of 1849 devastated Constant. Along with many other socialists, including Karl Marx (who loathed all forms of religious socialism as well as traditional religion), he became convinced that attaining the socialist Kingdom of God on Earth could not be attained by peaceful means.
With the December 1851 coup of Charles-Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, the socialists gained new hope. Nephew and heir of Napoléon Bonaparte, Napoléon III was the only president of the Second Republic (1848-1852), and the only emperor of the Second Empire (1852-1870).
Socialists saw the emperor as the restorer of public order and the champion of the people. Soon after the establishment of the Second Empire, Constant declared that the new government was “virtually socialist.”
Quickly becoming disillusioned with what he began seeing as an authoritarian dictatorship, however, Constant earned his third prison term in 1855 for a pamphlet criticizing the emperor. His wife had left him two years before. This was possibly due to his growing interest in the occult and his dream of bringing about a synthesis of religion and socialism through Kabbalah, a form of esotericism that evolved from thirteenth century heterodox Jewish mysticism. He had already begun publishing what many devotees consider his occult masterpiece, Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (1854-1856) under the pen name Éliphas Lévi Zahed. He now ceased all political activities.
Other tomes followed at regular intervals. As Éliphas Lévi, Constant influenced many of the people involved in theosophy, the occult, and Satanism. He served as something of a bridge between the earlier ostensibly Christian forms of socialism that flourished before the revolutions of 1848, and those incorporating purported Hindu, Buddhist, and other non-Christian elements in the fin-de-siècle period. His “Baphomet,” originally derived from the idol allegedly worshiped by the Knights Templar in the fourteenth century, and that he intended as a symbol of his universal Catholicism combining religion, science, and politics, became a symbol of Satanism.
Paradoxically, Constant condemned those who attempted the practice of magic, restricting himself to its ceremonial aspects. This may account for his lapse into relative obscurity after his death.